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General Interest

ERO pegs courthouse cost at $157 million

20140425 Courthouse featureIf the county doesn’t act quickly, the cost of a new courthouse could escalate, architects told the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court when discussing the schematics approved Tuesday.

Eli Ochoa, of ERO Architects, estimated the project construction cost for the courthouse at $127,705,007. In addition there are project soft costs (such as furniture and security equipment not included in construction costs) that would add an additional $29,372,152 to the cost of the building for a total of $157,077,159.

But Ochoa told the court the county must “speed to market” to keep costs down before anticipated inflation from rising fuel and materials costs. Ochoa estimated that at four percent inflation, the cost of the building could rise to $176,690,250 by 2017 when it is completed. Based on a six percent inflation cost, the building would cost an estimated $187,081,210.

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RGV seeing more border activity

20140121 Area Homeland-Security 0775Peñitas saw 35 drug seizures from December through February, according to Police Chief Roel Bermea. In April, that number increased 97 and May saw 171 seizures.

“I really don’t know what’s going on,” Bermea said. “We do what we have to do. I guess Border Patrol has seen an increase themselves.”

Before an aerostat, a helium-filled balloon with infrared cameras meant to deter illegal activity in the area, went up last year, Bermea said the city had been averaging between 60 and 90 a month.

La Joya Police Chief Geovani Hernandez echoed Bermea’s observations, estimating a 300-400 percent increase in recent activity. He pointed to three minor pursuits involving La Joya officers on Saturday as an example.

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County considers new minimum wage for low-level employees

Hidalgo-County-SealHidalgo County Commissioners Court is considering a request made by President Barack Obama to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for anyone earning less than that amount.

The minimum wage received by county employees is $7.25 an hour. While the county employs between 3,800 and 4,000 employees, only 2.5 percent, or 85, earn less than the $10.10 recommended by President Obama for minimum wage. The court was told it would take about $137,000 to bring those 85 personnel up to the minimum wage proposed by the President.

Commissioner Hector “Tito” Palacios said the county might have to streamline and cut down on a few employees, but he thought “raising salaries for those earning less that $10.10 could be done.” He added the funds might have to come from cutting back on the number of employees the county has.

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Retaliation alleged in flurry of lawsuits

20140530 lawHidalgo County Pct. 3 Commissioner Joe Flores has filed his own lawsuit after he was called out in yet another case alleging he is pulling the political strings of western Hidalgo County.

Flores’ suit was filed May 8 against former State Rep. Kino Flores; Ruth Villarreal, a former insurance provider for La Joya Independent School District; and Arnold Ochoa, a former La Joya ISD trustee and former city of Palmview employee.

Also named in his suit is Javier Peña, the attorney who filed separate suits on behalf of Villarreal and Ochoa.

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OI kicks off care package campaign

20140522 Operation-Interdependence-Kickoff JB 3905“Once you’re over there, receiving that care package gives you a little piece of home,” said U.S. Army Sgt. David Facundo during the Operation Interdependence (OI) campaign kick-off event last week in McAllen.

The goal of this year’s OI campaign is to ship over 40,000 care packages to soldiers serving overseas. The official campaign period – a drive for donations of goodies for the soldiers – started last Thursday and continues until July.

Speakers at the kick-off event included IBC Bank President David Guerra, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, State Representatives Sergio Munoz Jr. and Terry Canales, Col. (Ret.) Frank Plummer, U.S. Army Sgt. David Facundo (two time Afghanistan veteran), and Sergio Sanchez, of KURV. Channel 5’s Letty Garza served as emcee.

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Hidalgo County sees low voter turnout in runoffs

Hidalgo-County-SealMore than 8,000 votes were cast in the Democratic Party primary runoff, compared with 47,000 ballots cast in the March primary with far fewer races to decide. There are more than 312,000 registered voters in Hidalgo County.

About 1,300 voters opted to go Republican, compared with 6,000 in March.

Incumbent Juan R. Partida, a Democrat, had a sizeable win over Fidencio Guerra Jr. in the race for 275th District Judge. Partida garnered 5,894, or 74 percent, of the votes to Guerra’s 2,112, or 26 percent. With no Republican opponent, he’ll keep his office in January.

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Ag delegation looks at border security

20140521 Mission Staples-boat-tour 1764 featureCindy Hyde-Smith had read about the border and seen news reports about Mexican drug cartels, but Wednesday she and eight other agriculture commissioners from around the country toured the border for themselves.

“I thought the river would be bigger than it is,” said Hyde-Smith, Mississippi agriculture commissioner. “We were very surprised coming from the Mississippi River. The rest of us throughout the country, we just are not aware of the problem that’s here. It's very real, and it makes you realize this is just the front line. This is everybody’s problem; this is not just Texas’ problem.”

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples invited Hyde-Smith and seven other commissioners from Maryland, Maine, Wyoming and other states to tour the border with him and see first-hand the challenges with border security and immigration.

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County scrambles to get $9 million for indigent health care

Hidalgo-County-SealA demand from Hidalgo County Clinical Services that Hidalgo County pay the entire $9 million promised for services to the indigent for next year by the first week of June sent Hidalgo County Commissioners scrambling to determine where the money was coming from in the Tuesday, May 20, meeting of the Commissioners.

This is the money sent to the state yearly to be multiplied by the state formula to provide more funds for indigent health care. Usually the money is fully returned with half as much added for indigent health care in Hidalgo County because so many citizens need indigent health care services.

Personnel from the staff of Eddie Olivarez, director of Health and Human Services, explained in past years the money could be paid in quarterly payments.   However, no quarterly payments had been requested this year. The county had set aside $5 million in the budget, and had accumulated another $1,64,000 to add to the initial figure. Staff was counting on having the fourth quarter drawdown to fund the rest of the money, a sum of almost $2.4 million.

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CoverageAreaThe Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.

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